Anyone growing up or presently living in Queens has certainly heard of Elmhurst Hospital, but I’m sure very few are aware of its history. Elmhurst Hospital Center is the second oldest of New York City’s Municipal Hospitals with Bellevue being the oldest. Before the landing of the Europeans, in what is now called the United States, the island located in the middle of the East River was called MINNAHANOCH by the Algonquin Indians. In 1637 the island was sold to Dutch settlers. In 1673 it was lost to the British during the Dutch-English War and decreed to Capt. John Manning. Upon his death the island was inherited by his step-daughter Mrs. Blackwell who renamed it Blackwell Island. In 1828 New York City purchased the land for a sum of fifty-two thousand dollars.
In 1830 the city constructed a penitentiary on the southern tip of the island and in 1832 the Department of Charity and Almshouse of the City of New York opened a hospital (believed to be the original City Hospital) on the top floor. In 1849 a separate building was erected. This building remained in operation until Feb.13,1858 when in the midst of a blinding snowstorm the building was destroyed by fire. The 530 patients were all saved due to the heroic efforts of the staff. The hospital was rebuilt of granite quarried on the island and all construction was done by the prisoners detained there. The cornerstone of the building was laid on July 22,1858 and completed in 1870. From 1858-1866 the hospital was known as The Island Hospital. In 1866 the name was changed to Charity Hospital but due to the objection of the patients the name was changed to City Hospital.
In 1862 the city initiated a contract with the Federal Government to care for wounded Union soldiers. At that time the average cost of running the hospital was 14 cents per day. On Oct.1,1875 a School of Nursing (the fourth in the country ) was opened with twenty pupils. At this time transportation to the island was by means of a rowboat (in winter weather the trip could take up to 8 hours) which was replaced with an hourly steamboat. In 1920 an elevator was completed on the Queensboro Bridge which afforded transportation to and from the island from both Manhattan and Queens and the ferry service was discontinued.
During the first two decades of the century the capacity of the hospital increased continually. New buildings augmented the facilities and the bed capacity of 742 in 1909 rose gradually until it exceeded 1,000 in the 1930’s.
Elmhurst General Hospital was projected in N.Y.C.’s post-war construction program because of the rapid growth of the Borough of Queens and the need for an additional institution. The current hospital was designed by a Corona resident contracted by the Department of Public Works and built at a cost of $ 25.2 million dollars.
An article in the New York Times March 19,1957 read as follows:
-Elmhurst Hospital Opens-
The Elmhurst General Hospital was officially opened yesterday. Ninety-three patients were transferred from century-old City Hospital on Welfare Island for which Elmhurst is a replacement. In the next two days, officials will complete the transfer of 300 patients. Elmhurst: the first municipal general hospital built in Queens in twenty-two years, is at Broadway and Seventy-ninth street in Elmhurst. Formal dedication ceremonies will be held later.